On the 25th day of the longest government shutdown to date in U.S. history, leaders in the veteran community called for the Trump administration and Congress to end the shutdown.
Representatives from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Veterans (AMVets), and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) each took the podium during a press conference at the VFW Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to share their concerns for the communities they represent.
VFW National Commander-in-Chief B.J. Lawrence recognized that in addition to the 800,000 furloughed government employees, of whom a third are veterans, 41,000 Coast Guardsmen missed their first paycheck today since the shutdown began.
“We do not want anyone to miss a second check, which is why the VFW calls upon the administration and Congress to reach an agreement that takes care of our Coast Guard and the hundreds of thousands of other dedicated employees whose daily job it is to help the rest of America sleep better at night,” Lawrence said.
The demand to end the shutdown comes backed by concerns voiced to the representatives by veterans, active duty personnel, and contractors who are missing paychecks that sustain their day-to-day life from paying rent, affording childcare, to buying groceries.
“People are struggling, and they are facing very real financial challenges,” said Randy Reese, executive director of DAV. He acknowledged the problems people are facing today could become long-term problems if not addressed in the near future.
Assistance to active duty personnel and veterans is being offered to help ease the financial burden of the shutdown. Lawrence said the VFW has distributed more than $45,000 in emergency grants to help Coast Guard families with mortgages, utilities, and food. Chief Policy Officer of IAVA Melissa Bryant added that IAVA also has a Rapid Response Referral Program that will assist with financial, legal, and mental health needs as well. Bryant encouraged anyone who needed help, to reach out.
Lawrence added that the public can also help those in need during the partial government shutdown including being a voice and advocating to end the shutdown.
“Reach out, just like we’re doing today,” he said. “Be a voice. Advocate on behalf of ending the shutdown. Reach out to their elected leaders and send the same message that I just gave: We can and we must do better.”
Lawrence acknowledged that there are already efforts being made to alleviate financial burdens created by the shutdown, like the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act of 2019 (H.R. 367) that was introduced by bipartisan House members on January 9.
“We support that,” Lawrence said. “It would call for the immediate payment to our Coast Guard members and hopefully put them back on the financial stability track.”
Furthermore, Bryant said IAVA’s demands to end the shutdown does not mean it is taking a position on the issues being argued, recognizing it represents a wide range of political beliefs. Overall, the message of the press conference was for government leaders to take active steps in taking care of the people who have devoted their lives to serving the country be ending the shutdown.
“If you support veterans, and you say that you support veterans, then you need to support ending the shutdown,” Bryant said. “It’s that simple.”